On Monday night the Indianapolis Star's Tom LoBianco broke the news that Indiana Governor Mike Pence would soon launch a “state-run news outlet” to compete against local media outlets called Just IN.
LoBianco reported that, "The Pence news outlet will take stories written by state communications directors and publish them on its website. Stories will 'range from straightforward news to lighter features, including personality profiles.'"
Apparently journalists all over the map - in particular at the Star, across Indiana, as well as nationally - are aghast. The Star's investigative reporter, John Russell, on Monday night Tweeted that, “Every professional journalist in Indiana should join me in denouncing Gov. Pence’s state-run ‘news service,” Indianapolis Star investigative reporter John Russell tweeted Monday night.
Opinion editor Tim Swarens of the Star then took it to Def Con Stupid levels, writing in an op-ed piece, "The very concept — that the state government would provide "news stories" to local media — is so absurd, so out of bounds, that someone inside your inner circle should have spoken up vehemently in opposition to the plan."
Even on Wednesday morning, during witty repartee between Charlie Rose, Nora O'Donnell and Gayle King on CBS's "This Morning" show, Gov. Pence's gambit was compared to communist China's state-run news agency.
And what did Pence do in the wake of heavy-handed media criticsm? He lost his spine, retreating that Just IN would now be "just a clearinghouse" for news releases.
I'm not sure what is a greater shame in this debacle: Watching the transparent fear of an elected official, or seeing yet another nail in the death of traditional journalism being driven by the media themselves. Don't get me wrong. It's not because media organizations are ill-equipped to develop and deliver content the public wishes to consume. It's because media doesn't understand the sheer nature of media itself in today's world.
For many years, as consumer media consumption habits have changed I have preached to oranizations large-and-small that they must think of themselves as media outlets and content producers. Indeed, audiences are continually looking for fresh, unique content that stands out from the traditional take on today's news cycle. And whether it's delivered by CBS, the Star, High Times Magazine, or Oreo Cookies -- the public is consuming.
Take Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, which, among other things, was an ambitious branded content trailblazer through the now defunct online portal BudTV.
"When Janet Jackson had her 'wardrobe malfuction,' we somehow got blamed because our brands were known for humorous and engaging advertising." said Tim Murphy, a former senior brand executive at Anheuser-Busch. "At the same time, technology was beginning to drive brand behaviors. We didn't like that and felt we could take ownership of our content through innovation. So while we toned things down in traditional channels, at the same time we created our own 'water cooler community' and took full ownership of our content and the channels they were delivered in."
The first example of A-B's foray through BudTV was the Emmy Award-winning "Swear Jar" ad which became an overnight sensation. And while BudTV ultimately failed, it only did so only because the portal was far ahead of its time and, at the time, audiences were not yet ready to consume much of the longer form video BudTV featured.
Since then, of course, many brands and organizations have followed in BudTV's footsteps, ranging from RedBull (the arguably most successul) to not-for-profits to hundreds upon hundreds of others.
Most parallel to what we thought might come from Just IN -- at least before Gov. Pence lost his spine -- might be an effort in which I have been deeply involved over the past year -- the Accelerate St. Louis program. It is a collaboration by the St. Louis Regional Chamber and St. Louis Parntership for Economic Development to create a living, breathing content portal and information engine that both connects and elevates the visibility of the startups and entrepreneurism ecosystem in and around metro-St. Louis.
More than anything, AccelerateSTL produces, sources and aggregates both original and third-party content and pushes it out to watchful audiences about startups in greater St. Louis from a variety of issue experts ranging from startup CEOs and founders to accelerator heads to innovation park developers to venture capitalists to entrepreneurial mentors and the list goes on.
At least in the wake of the media's angst and Gov. Pence's weak knees, Just IN will only feature content written by the state's public information staff -- repurposed news releases that no one will read.
But had Just IN stayed the course as a news and content producer, the silliness of traditional media outlets to comparing it to communist states and suggesting Gov. Pence had prodigously breached some line in the sand on the media's beach is ridiculous. It's demonstrative of an out-of-touch industry that continues to struggle to understand today's consumer as well as grasping the reality of who their new competition is - consumer brands and a variety of organizations far and wide.